Why Aspirin Is Pretty Much Perfect

03/28/2008 02:47 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Aspirin, the most common of medicines, the most boring of health aids now has gathered so many fans that 74% of Americans surveyed told the "Bayer Aspirin" company that the lowly aspirin should be listed as the Eighth Wonder of the World. And they have their reasons. Weighing in at four cents a pill, aspirin has none of the aura of other wonder drugs but remains a life-saver. But this cheap little life-saver has gathered strength over the years and has garnered ever growing praise from patient and doctor alike.

So what are the reasons? For pain and arthritis, aspirin can substitute for more complicated (and expensive) pain killers available as a prescription. But every sufferer of a headache and minor pain knows that. But did you know...

That for 110 years, aspirin has served as even more serious medicine for more serious ailments, some potentially fatal. Aspirin can save 10,000 lives a year if given as directed by your physicians. Cutting the risk of death from heart disease by 23%, if given at the onset of a heart attack, and continued for 30 days, aspirin remains as effective a life-saver as many other drugs. So much so that in tens of thousands of studies...and over a score of years...aspirin not only retains its utility for life's little problems but remains also a major life-saver only recently catalogued in so many wonderful uses.

Those at high risk of heart attacks, as defined by the American Heart Association, should use aspirin therapy at the guidance of their physician. Those seen as moderately at risk should use aspirin if the benefit of aspirin outweighs gastrointestinal risks. Those at low risk need not bother. You must know your risk profile, and that's a medical concern.

Women who regularly take aspirin reduce their chances of a heart attack by 32%. In fact, for both men and women, swallowing a fast aspirin at the onset of a heart attack might reduce both the risk of death and also the threat of complications. The FDA has, in fact, approved the use of aspirin to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in people who have had a heart attack, those who have suffered an ischemic stroke, and also those who have had either stable or unstable angina. The FDA doesn't give such advice freely, either.

Strokes are also a potential danger averted, or at least mitigated, by aspirin. An "ischemic stroke" the most common type of stroke and usually caused by a blood clot in the brain, can be prevented (at least as a second stroke) by aspirin therapy. But other types of strokes might not be impacted at all by aspirin theory and might actually be riskier "with" than "without" aspirin.

That more recent studies have indicated a potential role for preventing colon cancer, for treating Alzheimer's, and in reducing arterial inflammation also promises further wonderful effects for the lowly aspirin.

Aspirin is so deeply embedded in modern life that it traveled to the moon with the Apollo Astronauts, went with intrepid explorers to the crest of Mount Everest, and was considered more important than a computers (by a two to one margin) in a recent poll.

But aspirin therapy is not for everyone. In fact, there might be prolonged bleeding, and stomach ulcers from prolonged aspirin use. This means that a doctor...your doctor...must green light the therapy and monitor your body's acceptance of this wonder drug. But the wonders never cease about the wonder drug aspirin. And it looks like the wonders continue well into this century.